Interview With Authors Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
photos of Bacigalupi and Buckell, and their book The Tangled Lands

Paolo Bacigalupi is the New York Times best-selling and multiple award-winning author of The Windup Girl, Ship Breaker, The Drowned Cities, Zombie Baseball Beatdown and The Water Knife (which really should be required reading for any/everyone living in the Southwestern region of the US!).

Tobias Buckell is another New York Times best-selling and multiple award-winning author who has written several Halo novels, the Xenowealth series, Arctic Rising and The Cole Protocol. His work has been translated into seventeen languages.

Bacigalupi and Buckell have teamed up to create The Tangled Lands and the results are extraordinary! They recently agreed to be interviewed by Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

You are both known primarily for writing Science Fiction, but The Tangled Lands is clearly Fantasy. What was it like to write in a different genre? Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome? Do either of you think you’d like to write more Fantasy after The Tangled Lands?

PB: I think we’ve always wanted to do more fantasy writing. I’ve written a few fantasy short stories as well, and it’s a lot of fun to be able to construct a world and story entirely free of our present moment. I think there’s a good chance that both of us will be returning to fantasy, and most likely also returning to the world we introduce in The Tangled Lands.

TB: Like Paolo, I have written several fantasy short stories, so I felt rather comfortable in the genre. I certainly read a lot of it in my formative years. And yes, I am currently writing a big fantasy novel.

What was it like to co-write The Tangled Lands? It looks like you each wrote your own parts of the book, but you must have collaborated a lot on building the world you created. What was that like? Would you consider collaborating on another project together? Are there other authors with whom you would like to co-write a book?

PB: We’ve been friends for a long time, and in some ways a lot of our work has been collaborative, in the sense that we’ve critiqued one another, discussed ideas we think are cool, argued about where the future is going, etc. Deciding to collaborate on a shared world like this was a spontaneous outgrowth of that already existing relationship. We were both looking to try something new, that felt like it would be creatively playful, and we were both a little sick of working alone all the time, so building Khaim together wasn’t really work so much as an extended creative/social chat over Skype.

TB: Yeah, I’m going to say that the Skype calls were what made this so fun. Writing can be so lonely, and for many that is the attraction, but I love batting ideas back and forth with smart friends.

How did The Tangled Lands evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Did it always have the four-part structure of the final version? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

PB: I think the biggest changes with The Tangled Lands came from our changing interests in what we wanted to see in stories, and the characters we found interesting. The core concept of The Tangled Lands—that magic is both easily accessible, and also brings bramble, came early and provided a backbone for our later interests. Then it was more about thinking about the different ways people might interact with that problem. How they would seek to solve it? How they would seek to take advantage? There are certainly parts of the world that both of us would still like to explore, and personally, I’ve got quite a lot written about some other characters—particularly Majister Scacz—that I was sorry to lose, but just didn’t fit this time around.

TB: I have a lot of notes and ideas for what happens out in the islands that are trying to cope with the remains of the old empire on the land. It’s post-apocalyptic there, but I think the smaller islands are experimenting with solutions and are more nimble.

Bramble seems like it could represent a lot of different issues and results of behaviors. Was there a specific issue that was the inspiration for Bramble? Was it the same for both of you?

PB: Of course it’s a metaphor for global warming. We get amazing benefits from burning carbon, and will also shoulder immense long-term burdens because of it. Writing this story as fantasy was a chance for us both to geek out over problems of marketplaces, the tragedy of the commons, individual benefits vs. group costs, long term vs. short term gain, etc. These are areas we’re already fascinated by, so it was a kick to turn it into stories of magicians and alchemists and executioners and refugees. A different way to dramatize the questions that our present world poses for us.

TB: The power of fantasy is that you can abstract the metaphor a little bit more and really let yourself play with these ideas deeply.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

PB: The second volume of a Darwin Biography—The Power of Place, by Janet Browne.

TB: I just finished Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, by Mason Currey. Methamphetamines, alcohol, or ritual habit seem to be the three, and since neither of those work for me I think I am doomed.

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

PB: Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein.

TB: When I was in pre-kindergarten or some kind of day care it was the Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. It inspired me to learn how to read because the teacher’s assistant got sick of reading it to me every single day and refused. I remember suddenly realizing that I was going to have to learn how to do this on my own so I could read that book on my own whenever I wanted. Later on, Island of the Blue Dolphin was a book I reread several times. When I was eight or nine, I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and my mind was blown, and it led to me seeking out science fiction from then on.

Was there a book you had to hide from your parents?

PB: Well, my father had to hide John Norman’s Gor novels from my step-mother. He sent them to me when I was in college because she kept threatening to burn them—one of those conundrums of positive values vs. the forbidden id of storytelling. I’m always interested in what we call “trash” and why we’re so afraid of it in literature.

TB: I never hid books. My mother’s theory was that the more I read the better chance I had at doing well, and that if I didn’t understand something I wasn’t ready for it. I always skipped over the naughty bits when I was real young because I was like ‘oh my god, adults and their obsession with the squishy bits.’ Now, it did mean that occasionally they spot checked my books and found stuff that freaked them out. I would say ‘that freaked me out, too.’ My stepdad was from the bible belt, so it occasionally meant I got in trouble, but I never could bother hiding anything because I read so many books so fast I could usually rotate the book back out to the used book store before anyone realized what I was reading. I did run into some Ann Rice books, her erotica, that were SO NOT about vampires and would have gotten me into trouble, I’m sure no one would have believed they were an accidental purchase.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

PB: I think this is an ever changing question. Some formative writers were William Gibson, J. G. Ballard, Ursula LeGuin, Hemingway, and Cormac McCarthy. But it might as easily be Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey, C. S. Forester, and Holly Black, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Or maybe it's nonfiction…. Really, these lists can go anywhere.

What is a book you've faked reading?

PB: I think there was Basil of Baker Street book that I pretended to read in 5th grade. I read the back cover, scanned a couple of scenes in the middle, and wrote a very general book report on it. I got an A.

TB: I’m a speed reader, it was always easier to just read the thing quickly than to try and lie. I always feel nervous about admitting I’ve not read something, but there are only so many hours and there are hundreds of thousands of books.

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

PB: Pretty much every Conan book with a Frank Frazetta cover. Also the Death Dealer books. Those were terrible. But Frank Frazetta could do swords and sorcery art that made you think you wanted to read the book. Oh yeah, there was an Alan Dean Foster book called Spellsinger, too. It had a turtle on the front, with little drawers in his belly. That seemed super cool to me. I actually liked those books a lot.

TB: I loved books with art by John Berkey. Oh, I loved that man’s art. So A Maze of Stars by John Brunner was a book I snagged without knowing anything about the book. Michael Whelan, as well, was this artist that always drew me in. Del Rey/Ballantine in the 80s seems to have been my aesthetic insta-buy.

Is there a book that changed your life?

PB: In a very specific way, sure. I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. About halfway through the book I quit my day job and started writing my first, very crummy, novel. It put me on a completely different path than the one that I thought I was on.

TB: I mentioned reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. The perspective and questioning ideas drove me into a love of science, learning, rationalism and more. It really changed the direction of my thinking as a kid in terms of what might be possible and how to dream on a big scale.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

PB: No. I only evangelize specific books for specific reasons. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about Thinking Fast, and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. It gives good insight into our common cognitive failures. That was informative. I also really enjoy almost everything by Michael Lewis. He’s got a knack for explaining complexity in relatable ways. Moneyball and The Big Short were both excellent, I thought. And not coincidentally closely related to Kahneman’s work.

TB: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. Everything about is amazing and it’s been my most gifted and pushed book in a while. I also push Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord a lot.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

PB: The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

TB: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

PB: Someplace warm, with good friends.

TB: It’s somewhere warm, I grew in the Caribbean, so it’s a day where you get up and the wind comes in off the ocean and is salty and you have a whole day of hanging out on the beach with friends talking while you bounce in the warm water and then playing Frisbee or something like that. Split a couple of bottles of something while watching sunset, but get off the beach before insects start biting.

What are you working on now?

PB: More books. Sorry, no details yet.

TB: A fantasy novel about dead gods and mining magic from them. A book a friend of mine and I are doing that’s this Full Metal Jacket meets Lord of the Rings fantasy novel. And I’m also revising a middle-grade novel about a Caribbean kid who wins a chance to go on an alien starship to other worlds. And more! I’m always in way over my head.

The tangled lands
Bacigalupi, Paolo,

The tangled lands
Bacigalupi, Paolo,